FAIRLAWN — Thursday's 28th annual Chanukah at the Mall may have been the first one without its organizer, Revere Road Synagogue Rabbi Mendy Sasonkin, but that didn't stop hundreds of people from joyfully celebrating the holiday — exactly as the rabbi would have wanted.
“I know that we are all here doing exactly what he would want us to do, encourage us to do and direct us to do,” said Revere Road synagogue member Gary Himmel, who served as the event’s master of ceremonies.
Sasonkin and his wife, Kaila, organized the festival for years. Sasonkin, who had led the congregation since 1995, died in October after a seven-year battle with lymphoma.
As techno Hanukkah music blasted in the food court at Summit Mall on Thursday, hundreds of people packed into rows of folding chairs to celebrate the Jewish festival of lights. The eight-day holiday honors the Jews who reclaimed their Holy Temple from superior Greek armies more than 2,000 years ago and had a one-day supply of oil that lasted eight days.
This year, Hanukkah began Sunday evening and ends the evening of Dec. 10.
Temple Israel Rabbi Josh Brown pointed out all of the lights around the food court Thursday.
"This is our time to look to all the lights and have these lights in the midst of these days that are so short and to sing and dance,” Brown said. “And there is no better time to do that than when we gather here with all of our friends and get to sing our Hanukkah songs and listen to our kids light up our nights.”
Thursday’s festivities included three menorahs: a traditional oil menorah, a “canorah” made out of canned goods that will be donated to the Akron-Canton Regional Foodbank and a basketball menorah to honor Sasonkin, an avid recreational basketball player.
Thursday marked the fifth night of Hanukkah, so five candles on each of the menorahs were lit.
Beth El Cantor Stephen Stein lit the traditional menorah, and outgoing Jewish Community Board of Akron CEO David Koch and incoming CEO Todd Polikoff lit the canorah. Revere junior basketball player Hunter Drenth lit the basketball menorah, which was well over 7 feet tall.
"He's the only one that can reach up there," Himmel joked about the 6-foot-8 Drenth.
A choir of dozens of children, many of them from the Lippman School, performed Hanukkah songs while wearing blue crowns with a menorah or dreidel on the front.
Several Fairlawn police officers were on hand for the event, which also included latkes, jelly donuts, “Dreidel Man,” who was wearing a blue dreidel costume, and Judah the Maccabee, who helped the Jews defeat their oppressors two millennia ago, Himmel said.
Partnering organizations for the event included the Anshe Sfard Synagogue, Beth El Congregation, Chabad of Akron/Canton, Jewish Community Board of Akron, Jewish Family Service, Shaw JCC, the Lippman School and Temple Israel.
Rabbi Moshe Sasonkin, who will take over the mantle from his father at the Revere Road Synagogue, helped pass out Hanukkah gelt, or money, to dozens of children, a Hanukkah tradition.
“When we give cash or money to children, first of all, it makes it exciting for them, and it makes Judaism very fun,” Sasonkin said. “But in addition to that, it teaches them. It's a teaching moment. It's a time when they remember that in life, we have to give to others as well."
Each child received a dollar and a dime — the dollar was for them to keep, but the dime was donated, as Sasonkin said Jewish tradition calls for 10 percent of the money you make to be donated to charity.
Thursday’s donations were headed for the Friendship Circle of Cleveland, which helps children with special needs.
"Take the light of Hanukkah, take the inspiration and give it out to others,” Sasonkin told the children. “Spread the light. Happy Hanukkah!”
Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills can be reached at 330-996-3334, email@example.com and @EmilyMills818.